By St. John Martin
Originally Published Oct. 28, 2016
1. We have too many people on Earth to be able to sustain for even a few centuries. Each person consumes some of the Earth’s resources and those resources are limited. Our current growth rate is about 1.13% according to the World Population Clock. Using the time-to-double formula for compound interest of 70 divided by the interest rate in percent, we get 70/1.13 = 61.9 years. Our current population of 7.4 billion people will go to 14.8 billion in about 70 years. That is the math. In the last 200 years we have gone through a very large portion of Earth’s resources and are already fighting wars over them. How about when the population is double? Will everybody be happy then and give up wars? I doubt it. Actually, when there is any growth rate, whether it is population or the economy, it is unsustainable because the Earth is finite. We have to find a way to exist with zero growth or less or we will not survive. The use of fossil fuels by all these people is one of the driving forces for global warming.
2. The records at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii show that the carbon content of the atmosphere has been going up at an ever increasing rate since the early 1800’s when the CO2 level was about 280 parts per million (ppm). The level reached 410 ppm this year and is going up faster than ever. For every change of 1ppm of CO2 the Earth’s temperature changes by 0.2 degrees F. The temperature rise lags the CO2 rise by a century or so meaning we won’t feel the full impact of what we have done, but our descendants will. Right now the Earth's temperature reaches new highs almost every month. However, even if we stop CO2 production right now the temperature will still go up unless we also remove all that excess CO2 from the atmosphere. Without this removal, the temperature will continue to go up by another 28 degrees F which will certainly kill most of the life on the planet. To get back to the CO2 levels of 1800 we need to remove about 1.4 trillion metric tons of CO2 from the atmosphere. Not an easy task.
3. A reliable non-carbon fuel is needed to eliminate the global warming problem. This means no fossil fuels! Nuclear is out because of high cost and dangerous byproducts. It also requires fuel to mine uranium ore, process it into fuel, transport it to the power plants and carry away the spent fuel rods for further reprocessing. Currently all the transportation and processing runs on fossil fuels so there is not much benefit to using nuclear in the first place. The only other practical fuel is hydrogen, but it is hard to handle because it leaks out through the tiniest holes and takes up a lot of room even when compressed to several tens of thousand pounds per square inch. Ammonia however, is an efficient hydrogen carrier and one gallon of ammonia contains as much hydrogen as 1.5 gallons of liquid hydrogen cooled to near absolute zero. Cryogenic hydrogen is not practical to use for your car or to power your house or boat or almost anything else except a rocket to outer space.
Fuel cells made by Toyota or Apollo Energy Systems convert ammonia directly to electricity and exhaust water and nitrogen. No bad waste products. Two companies, one in Canada and one in Austria make ammonia synthesizers that convert water and nitrogen into ammonia with very high efficiency. Both the fuel cells and synthesizers are over 80% efficient. An internal combustion engine is about 25% efficient. Right now the U.S. uses over 200 million barrels of ammonia a year all produced by converting natural gas and in the process releasing a very large amount of CO2. Almost all that ammonia is used for fertilizing crops across the country. Sadly, none is used for fuel. However, right now we have the technology and the manufacturers to produce the equipment that will make ammonia available at reasonable prices. Anybody can install the equipment on their house if they have the sun for solar panels and produce all the fuel they need to power their home and car without polluting the air with CO2. Once you install the equipment, there are no more fees from anybody. The equipment is also good for thirty years or more of production. Nobody can shut off your power or raise your rates. If the power grid goes down it won’t bother you.
4. It has been shown that transportation can go almost exclusively electric. Batteries are now good enough to propel cars well over 200 miles without a recharge. Most of us do not travel more than that each day and can easily recharge vehicles at night at home or at work with company supplied charging stations. For longer trips one could supplement using an ammonia fuel cell.
5. Is it possible for us to make the necessary changes to our life styles to save the Earth from ourselves? Yes, it is. In 1961 Pres. Kennedy stated that we would have a man on the moon by the end of the decade and 8 years later we did. That required rocket science. Now we have to switch to non-carbon fuels, slow our population growth to zero and develop an economic system that works with no growth. No rocket science required. We already have most of the answers and only have to implement them. So what is it going to be, certain death by ignoring what we are doing or a revamp of our modus operandi so that our only home, Earth, will be saved for future generations?
The opinions expressed in this blog entry are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Climate Stewards of Greater Annapolis.